Local shopkeepers claim that one of the mismatched benches that appeared on Fifth Avenue near 86th Street under the cover of darkness to displace a controversial gyro cart once sat near 87th Street until someone ripped it out of the ground, moved it, and bolted it onto a contested piece of sidewalk.
Joe Hu, manager of the of Citistar Market 88 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 87th Street said the green bench that popped up near 86th Street — taking up a spot where Middle Eastern Halal Cart sold food for more than two years — used to stand in front of his business, which is across the street and more than 300 feet away.
“We had the bench till maybe two weeks ago. Now it’s down there,” Hu said, pointing toward 86th Street. “They have too many benches there now.”
Hu said he didn’t see who removed the bench since it disappeared overnight. The seat’s rusty footprints are still visible and a bolt that once secured the bench to the ground which had been cut was still sticking out of the sidewalk.
Kevin Lin, an employee at the All Happy Restaurant next door to Citistar, backed Hu’s claim.
“They moved it to 86th Street,” Lin said when asked about the bench, although he admitted that he didn’t know who “they” are.
No one has taken responsibility for installing the benches onto Middle Eastern Halal Cart’s usual hangout.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the agency never authorized the placement of benches on Fifth Avenue near 86th Street. Members of 86th Street Business Improvement District, which oversees improvements to the commercial strip, also denied knowing anything about the benches.
A handful of Fifth Avenue merchants have been complaining about Middle Eastern Halal Cart for months, claiming that the gyro seller pollutes the sidewalk and attracts rowdy drunks without having to pay the astronomical commercial rents brick and mortar businesses pay.
In fact, Fifth Avenue bar owner Tony Gentile was hoping to uproot the food cart by installing flower beds on the prime piece of sidewalk real estate when the benches mysteriously popped up sometime after 4 am — after Middle Eastern Halal Cart manager Sammy Kassen closed up for the night.
But Kassen wasn’t discouraged about being booted from his favorite spot. He decided to park his cart a few feet away from the benches sparking a confrontation with Gentile and several other merchants, who created a human barricade in an attempt to stop him from backing into his new spot.
Witnesses said Kassen hit Gentile with his cart as he continued to back up.
Gentile was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. No arrests were made.